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Explore to what extent The Great Gatsby is a Modernist novel

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Introduction

Explore to what extent The Great Gatsby is a Modernist novel The Great Gatsby, the first truly Modernist novel to find success in the United States, set the tone for the movement that defined American literature well into the present day. In Modernism, Fitzgerald found a way to define his world that would have been impossible in the Nineteenth-century Victorian style that still dominated American writing. In his style, portrayal of American morality and treatment of his characters, Fitzgerald left the Victorian era behind, creating a Modernist masterwork that still serves as a model for American fiction. The gritty realism of William James and his contemporaries, and even the light-hearted tone of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, was too limited to allow Fitzgerald to portray the Jazz Age, a period in which dark fantasy reigned. Modernism offered a broader palette, a self-consciously surreal landscape in which life is viewed more metaphorically than meticulously detailed. Only through this lens could a central theme of the novel emerge: 'Twenty miles from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, just out into the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western Hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound'. ...read more.

Middle

Jordan drifts away, never revealed as a cheater on the pro tour. Only Nick seems to have retained a conscience from their shared Midwestern heritage, but it is tempered by his exposure to Gatsby's world. 'One night I did hear a material car [at Gatsby's house] and saw its lights stop at his front steps. But I didn't investigate. Probably it was some final guest who had been away at the ends of the earth and didn't know that the party was over.' (188) Nick will carry what he has seen at the parties, culminating in the fateful "party" at the Plaza Hotel, with him forever. Gatsby's parties themselves set the stage for the amoral activities to follow. Again, the definition is important - nothing immoral seems to go on at the parties in detail. What Fitzgerald gives us is a glamorous sheen of decadence. Note the lack of specific detail in Nick's account of the aftermath of one party. 'Most of the remaining women were now having fights with men said to be their husbands...One of the men was talking with curious intensity to a young actress, and his wife after attempting to laugh at the situation in a dignified and indifferent way broke down entirely and resorted to flank attacks - at intervals she appeared suddenly at his side like an angry diamond and hissed "You promised!" ...read more.

Conclusion

This is fitting, considering that Fitzgerald uses his characters to criticize elements of his society that are also deathless. Open social criticism is another Modernist hallmark Fitzgerald exploits to its fullest in his characters. In the Nineteenth century, essayist and poet Henry David Thoreau advocated Civil Disobedience from jail; Fitzgerald's response is a near-parody of 1920s American urban life. His world is close enough to the real world to be recognizable, yet it is blurred enough to serve his purposes. All of Gatsby's characters, human and nonhuman, participate in Modernism's open examination of such American institutions as industry, power and class and their by-products. Gatsby's open critique, already in use by poets of the time, is the most blatant yet, beginning an almost century-long tradition of social commentary in American literature. The Great Gatsby set the tone for literature to come in its blending of various post-nineteenth century ideas into what would become known as Modernism and its offshoot, Postmodernism. Fitzgerald, influenced by the social and artistic changes going on all around him, developed a vision that has persisted into fiction of the twenty-first century; his concerns are our concerns, and American life has changed little from Modern to Postmodern. Only the terms have changed. In defining what fiction could become, Gatsby is as important today as in 1926 as an example of what Modernist literature can, and still does, accomplish. ...read more.

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